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Topic: Children's Access to "Screen Time"

Question: Since the pandemic started, my kids have been spending much more time in front of screens (such as the TV, computer, smartphones). How can I break my kids away from their screens and get them physically and mentally active in other ways?

Stefanie Hanisch, M.D.
Child Psychiatry
Sanford Health

Expert's Response

It’s important to recognize that part of the reason why kids are spending so much more time in front of screens these days is because of the new demands with education - distance learning has put kids in front of laptops and tablets for most of the day. That's why parents should be realistic when thinking about "what is too much screen time for my kid?" It's important, as a parent, to be kind to yourself and give yourself a break, knowing that you will do the best you can given the circumstances.

Nonetheless, setting boundaries around screen time is really important when at all possible. Pediatricians usually recommend no more than 2 hours of screen time a day; however, this depends on what you consider screen time, and distance learning probably shouldn’t count in that.

These are some additional things to consider when setting boundaries around screen time:

  • Start with some compassion. Many kids are using screen-based games as a way to relax and unwind. This isn't unreasonable given that there is a greater need these days for stress relief, and there are few other outlets for our kids.
  • Make screen time a reward for appropriate behavior. Make known what expectations there are for things like getting homework and chores done. Once these expectations are met for the day, then additional screen time can be a reward.
  • Create a list of fun alternatives to screen time. When we tell our kids to stop doing something, we should be offering them things to do instead. For example, suggest putting down the electronic device and doing crafts as a family instead.
  • Stay the course. Don’t give in once limits are set. Instead, stick to the plan through any whining, complaining, or angry outburst – because things are likely to get worse before they get better.